PARIS — The “robo-taxi” changed virtually overnight from a “what-if” scenario dreamt by automotive visionaries to the public pledge of an imminent rollout on Tuesday (Nov. 7) when Waymo and Navya independently announced plans to launch automated cab services in major cities.
Both Navya and Waymo aspire to offer highly automated ride-hailing services. The AVs promised by Navya and Waymo are minivans with room for at least six passengers.
But when it comes to business models and technologies, there is less in common between Waymo, whose developments are supported by Alphabet’s deep pockets, and Navya, a French startup operating on its first 30 million euros of venture capital.
Waymo is the world’s acknowledged leader in highly automated vehicles and the software/hardware technologies that go inside them. Navya has 160 people based in Paris and elsewhere in the world. It made its name as the world’s foremost developer and manufacturer of autonomous shuttle buses.
Christophe Sapet, Navya CEO stressed, however, that “Autonom Cab (Navya’s robo-taxi) will be the first automated taxi developed by the only carmaker in the world who actually makes and sells autonomous vehicles.” Referring to the automated shuttle business that has been Navya’s core, Sapet claimed, “There are over 50 Autonom Shuttles in service around the world today.”
Navya CEO speaks before he unveils Autonom Cab (Photo: EE Times)
Navya, which kept its Autonom Cab plan tightly under wraps before Tuesday, said that it will start operating its initial ride-hailing service in April 2018, when regular customers can climb onto a six-seat robo-taxi (with no steering wheel, no pedals) in a French city. The service could start “in Paris or in other cities elsewhere,” said Sapet.
By July 2018, Navya will have partners scheduled to launch their own commercial automated cab businesses, he added. Names will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show next January, he promised.
Meanwhile, Waymo stole Navya’s thunder by announcing on the same day in a different venue — at a conference in Lisbon. Waymo will make its first commercial deployment of “Waymo driverless service” in the Phoenix metro area within the next couple of months.
Waymo’s Early Rider Program, which has been in operation in Chandler, Ariz., since last April, will be first to experience the new technology. Initially, a safety driver will be stationed in the car. As soon as the technology performs successfully, the safety drivers will disappear, according to Waymo.
Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor for Vision Systems Intelligence (VSI Labs), told EE Times, “The rollout is not too surprising, considering the string of news about Waymo lately.”
Magney noted, “About six months ago, Waymo ordered 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacificas to be built on top of its 100 in operation now, so it looks like the fleet will be in the order of several hundred in the near-term. Waymo gave no details (or timeframe) in which other markets it would expand beyond Phoenix, but we can assume that it would include other areas in which Waymo has been testing such as Mountain View, Austin, Kirkland, Washington, and soon to be Novi, Michigan.” He added, “Furthermore, Waymo’s recent agreements with Avis and AutoNation could play a role in expansion and maintenance of those fleets.”
According to Waymo’s chief executive, John Krafcik, the service will initially be a branded Waymo service but will be extended to other fleet operators, explained Magney. “Krafcik made note to the importance of fleet operators going forward where the fleets customize for different consumer applications as well as logistics applications.”
The two events on Tuesday illustrate that “things are happening fast in the autonomous vehicle world right now,” said Magney.
Next page: Under the hood of Navya’s Autonom Cab
Under the hood of Navya’s Autonom Cab
EE Times asked Liyes Haddad, Navya’s industrial director responsible for production of Navya’s vehicles, about the basic building blocks of the Autonom Cab. The vehicle contains six cameras, 10 lidar sensors, four radars, two GNSS antennae, V2X (DSRC-based), 4G cellular modem.
Valeo supplied its 145° lidars capable of seeing a distance greater than 200 meters (7 units per vehicle) and radar sensor technologies, while Velodyne offered its VLP lidars, which can provide 360° view (3 units per vehicle).
Valeo’s Scala sensors (Photo: Navya)
The Autonom Cab’s computing platform is based on that of Nvidia. Haddad said that Navya switched the platform (originally supplied by Valeo) to Nvidia this year when the companies met at CES. In the Autonom Shuttle, Navya used no radars, but now the Autonom Cab comes with four. The Shuttle used only 8 lidars, but the Cab uses 10, added Hadda.
Given that Navya’s autonomous shuttle experience is its claim to fame, we asked what lessons Navya learned. Haddad noted, “Safety comes first, but more safety can be supported by embedded connected systems.”
By embedded connected systems, he refers to a 4G modem that allows Navya to not only record and report any troubles during a drive but to also run vehicle diagnostics. “We need to make sure all sensors are working properly and air conditioning inside a vehicle is set properly.”
He added, “We also learned the problems with doors.” Entry into and exit from an automated vehicle can pose a dilemma, he observed. “We had to be very careful counting the number of people going into a vehicle and those coming out.” Issues with city authorities?
Navya’s CEO, with a note of impatience, said that regulators and city authorities need to catch up with advancements in technology. Without the blessing of city leaders, Navya can’t even name the first site for its robo-taxi service. Navya’s press conference and its plan for experiments are geared up to flood the media and sway authorities to embrace highly automated vehicles on regular streets.
The situation in the United States, however, is a little different. Magney said, “Phoenix has an executive order to allow for the development and deployment of self-driving technologies. The executive order opened the door for pilot programs to enable companies to test self-driving car technology.” He added, “According to the executive order, vehicles must be monitored by a licensed driver, although the monitoring can be done from a remote location.”
Navya’s Sapet also noted that Autonom Cab will initially have a “driver” (with no steering wheel, but equipped with a switch). This, he said, is not because Autonom Cab can’t drive autonomously, “but because of the regulation.” Cost equation
According to Sapet, the cost of an Autonom Shuttle and an Autonom Cab isn’t far apart — between 250,000 and 260,000 euros per vehicle. It’s not cheap. Navya’s pitch is that a robo-taxi, which doesn’t do drugs and doesn’t get sick, will last seven years. Given that no drivers are needed, operators can lower the ride cost or choose to pocket the difference, said Sapet.
Of course, this argument does not consider what operators must pay to run remote control centers.
Navya’s Autonom Cab in Paris (Photo: Navya)
Unlike Waymo, whose focus until now is on development of its own software and hardware stack for highly automated vehicles, Navya’s business appears spread wide and perhaps thin.
Navya styles itself as a developer of intelligent autonomous cars, a manufacturer of autonomous vehicles and a service provider of a wide range of services including supervision, maintenance, and an application for passengers for a fully optimized mobility solution.
Navya currently has two production sites — one in Lyon and another in Saline, Michigan — for its autonomous vehicles. Noting the increased production capacity in Lyon prepared for the additional sales of Autonom Cab, the CEO said that the Saline facility may also produce Autonom Cab for the U.S. market. “We plan to make 1,000 autonomous vehicles within the next two years,” he added.
Magney noted, “Up until this point, Waymo and Navya have not really been direct competitors, in my opinion. It seems to me that Navya wants to be specialized player in AV vehicles that are optimized for public transport.”
However, he added, “Navya could move up from a niche player in autonomy, specializing in slow-moving shuttles not meant for public roads, up to a major player in the race toward completely driverless mobility services.”
In the following pages, we share what we saw at Navya’s press conference in Paris on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Next page: Autonom Cab unveiled
Autonom Cab unveiled
Navya’s Autonom Cab unveiled (Photo: EE Times)
Navya’s CEO Christophe Sapet gets into Autonom Cab (Photo: EE Times)
Next page: Front look
Front look (Photo: Navya)
Next page: Can you throw more sensors at AV?
Can you throw more sensors at AV?
Navya lidar and camera (Photo: EE Times)
Navya’s lidars and radars (Photo: EE Times)
Next page: Look inside Autonom Cab
Look inside Autonom Cab
Inside look of Navya’s Autonom Cab (Photo: EE Times)
A display inside Autonom Cab (Photo: Navya)
Next page: Navya CEO mobbed by the French Media
Navya CEO Christophe Sapet mobbed by the French media
Navya CEO being interviewed by Canal+ (Photo: EE Times)
Navya CEO Christophe Sapet (Photo: EE Times)
Next page: Can you handle Place de L’Etoile?
Can you handle Place de L’Etoile?
Place de L’Etoile, Paris
Christophe Sapet, CEO of Navya (Photo: Navya)
Three Autonom Cabs will begin test-driving in Paris this month. Asked if Navya’s Autonom Cab can handle the world’s most confusing roundabout, Place de L’Etoile, Navya CEO said, “Sure, we can.” When EE Times asked again, “Are you sure about that?,” Christophe Sapet said, “Well, that’s why we need to do a lot of test-driving.”
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times